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The Secret Way Power Lines Have Been Scaring Wildlife

The Secret Way Power Lines Have Been Scaring Wildlife

While power lines seem like mundane structures to us, researchers have come up with a new explanation about why animals are avoiding them.

Scientists have noted in the past that animals in varied habitats avoid power lines, even long after they’re built, but weren’t sure exactly why because they’re easy to pass by and aren’t associated with people. One explanation was that they avoided the open areas that were cleared to build power lines because they would make them vulnerable to predators. However, this theory wouldn’t apply to a species like reindeer who live in open tundra.

Now a team of researchers from the University College London (UCL), Moorfields Eye Hospital, London, UIT The Arctic University of Norway and the University of Oslo in Norway believe they have come up with the answer and that UV light is the culprit. Their findings were published in the journal Conservation Biology.

High-voltage power lines emit flashes of UV light when buildups of ionized gas are released at insulators and points along cables. While these flashes are invisible to the human eye, a number of species can see them. Now researchers believe animals are seeing power lines as flashing streaks of light cutting across the landscape.

While it’s been known that birds, fish, and some reptiles and amphibians were sensitive to UV light, another recent study found that a variety of mammals, including dogs and cats, can see some level of UV light. Reindeer, who have adapted to survive the dark Arctic winters, are particularly sensitive to it.

“New information about animal vision along with the characteristics of power lines provides strong evidence that the avoidance may be linked with animals’ ability to detect ultraviolet flashing on power lines that humans cannot see and which they find frightening,” said Professor Glen Jeffery, UCL Institute of Ophthalmology, in a statement.

Researchers now believe these flashes are making power lines appear as scary looking lines that are impacting wildlife around the world by altering migration routes, fragmenting habitats and cutting off access to grazing land, which is a theory that would be particularly applicable to reindeer.

“The loss and fragmentation of habitat by infrastructure is the principle global threat to biodiversity it is absolutely major. Roads have always got particular attention but this will push power lines right up the list of offenders,” Dr. Nicolas Tyler, an ecologist at UIT The Arctic University of Norway, told the Guardian.

Not only are these sparks bad for wildlife, but they’re also a sign of inefficiency and are early indicators of problems. Power companies use helicopter-mounted cameras to try to find them and fix issues, but won’t be able to eliminate them entirely. According to Jeffrey, even with our ability to see what the UV cameras pick up, it’s still only a glimpse of what animals see.

Researchers hope that this discovery will at least help with future decisions about where power lines are placed. According to the Guardian there is a plan to build a 186 mile power line through Norway, and they hope their work will encourage power companies to work with reindeer herders on its placement.

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Photo credit: Thinkstock

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12:21PM PST on Feb 25, 2015

thanks for sharing :)

12:47PM PDT on Apr 2, 2014

Interesting, thank you.

12:23PM PDT on Mar 25, 2014

The radiation field around power lines extends for about 150 feet Canada has banned building within 125 feet of a power corridor, grass apparently has gene mutation under them, Ito any natural animal this field must be hugely uncomfortable to be in, 32.000 volts of static electricity .... why are birds not affected ? probably because they're not grounded. birds probably find the force field tickling and pleasureable... I guess there's not much hope for humans if they cannot even feel that.. we are sooo out of touch with our bodies, our minds and the world around us.

4:37PM PDT on Mar 22, 2014

Being around those huge lines they emit sounds also. I would have thought that the annoying BUZZZZZ and HUMMM constantly spewing would drive any animal crazy and be the reason to stay away. But in many cases, large raptors use the towers to make nests,. So that leaves me confused!

6:25AM PDT on Mar 22, 2014


3:25PM PDT on Mar 21, 2014

Many people including myself believe living to close to the huge power lines are harmful to human beings. Many animals have innate ability to sense something is wrong and I believe that is the case here. I don't think it's just some UV light they can see is why they avoid living near power lines. I believe they can sense something is harmful to their physical well being and their offspring's well being is why they don't live near power lines. Knowing the wild animals avoid this power lines worldwide just reinforces my belief that they're harmful to all life. And I will stay as far away from them as I can. I will reroute the path I take for walking and running just like the wild animals do. Trust in the wild and some domesticated animals and their innate ability to sense when something is wrong, unsafe and/or threatening to life and limb. When the animals are wary and/or frightened take heed and be cautious. Observe/listen to them instead of the two legged animal known as human beings; I know I have and I will continue to do so even thought my animal family/friends are so-called domesticated.

3:05PM PDT on Mar 19, 2014

They scare me too.

10:47AM PDT on Mar 19, 2014

If they bury the power lines, then they can still emit harmful EMFs without people realizing it, as they would be buried. How would one know if they put a safe casing around all of them if they bury them in the ground?

10:37AM PDT on Mar 19, 2014

I always thought they had the outdoor power lines to commit genocide against flying critters such as birds. Now, I read this new story about power lines scaring wildlife such as reindeer with UV light. It is not surprising. Thanks for the information.

10:25AM PDT on Mar 19, 2014


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